Disquiet is growing among Conservative politicians over the money being spent on overseas aid and the European Union, with senior backbenchers warning that David Cameron will face renewed pressure to whittle it down in the wake of social unrest at home.
A number of Tories have told the Financial Times that they would like the government to use the money to help tackle social problems in its own backyard following rioting across England.
“Something has got to give,” said one backbencher. “The sum going to the EU and overseas aid is more than £80bn during this parliament. It is a hell of a lot of money and it has to be borrowed.
“There is an issue that too much is being spent on foreigners, if you want to be crude about it. It’s the wrong balance when Britain has a lot of social problems to deal with.”
Andrew Mitchell, the development secretary, on Thursday defended the decision to maintain overseas aid funds. “We have made our position very clear on this – that we can’t balance the books on the backs of the poorest people on the planet,” he said.
The government has pledged to spend 0.7 per cent of national income on official development assistance from 2013.
However, many in the prime minister’s party are not toeing the line.
MP Peter Bone told the FT that money should be taken from the overseas aid budget if necessary to support policing in the wake of the riots. “Does [the overseas budget] need to increase by £4bn a year?” he asked. “We have got to protect citizens at home.”
Philip Davies, Tory MP for Shipley, told the FT he did not believe that the aid budget should be ringfenced.
“We are giving £280m to India every year, when they spend $35bn a year on defence and £750m a year on space programmes. They have economic growth expected this year to be more than 9 per cent – it is just ludicrous to be giving them aid like this.”
He added: “David Cameron has won the argument on austerity in this country, but by leaving out overseas aid he is undermining the message.”
The tensions have been exacerbated by the government’s promise to turn round 120,000 problem families during this parliament and do more to rehabilitate offenders in the face of the deepest austerity measures for generations.
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